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Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Classic Rant: Emulation and Realism

Some people still seem to be unclear what's the difference between "emulation of genre" and "realism". Someone recently made the argument to me that there is an "unwritten assumption" in a game setting that anything that isn't explicitly known to be different in the setting would work according to normal "realistic" physical or social laws.
Except that's not the agreement. The agreement is "everything not explicitly included should work in such a way that it doesn't fuck up the genre being emulated". THAT has to be the agreement, or you're ruined.

For example, comics. If everything that was unwritten about comics were assumed to be normal physics, then the whole superhero idea would come crashing down. I had one player in a supers game who's a science geek, and he started pointing out that his speedster should be able to do stuff using the force of inertia that would basically have made him, and not the superman-type, by far the most power character in the game.

Ditto on the social/psychological level. Again, in a comics world we're pretending that people are reacting to superheroes in an extremely nonplussed way most of the time (see "Watchmen" for a more accurate depiction of how humanity would deal with, or rather fail to deal with, a real superpowered being), and yet burst into panic at other moments. Whether they do so or don't so is not on account of real-world psychology but what makes sense in crazy comic-book world.

Things that are not explicitly described in the rules but where someone could bring in the "realism" question (the blast patterns of fireballs, the chance of a weapon breaking, the speed of reading something, the hunting radius of a dragon's lair, etc) are all things I would not make "realistic" rules for but that I would house rule, and those house rules would have as their PRIORITY ONE not to fuck up the game and setting. "Realism" bullshit slows down the game, lets would-be smartasses essentially cheat by warping the mechanics in way clearly contrary to the original intent and all game balance, and generally have very little pay off in return ("well, it took us six hours to figure out the "realistic" burn pattern of that fireball, and it killed half the party as it turns out in the most boring way possible, but on the plus side Melvin the Wizard is now a wankerish hell-spawning monstrosity that makes every other PC in the group useless, and the whole thing is technically slightly more accurate even though there are MILLIONS AND MILLIONS of other things we haven't bothered to consider in the fucking fruitless search for "realism"").

It fucks up setting, too. A good rule of thumb I use is "is there any other character with the same abilities as the PCs who has done this, or gives a shit about it? no? Then its not "realistic" to the emulation of the setting".

Example number one: Melvin the wizard wants to claim that "realistic" physics should let him do some special trick with a fireball that allows him to take down a large number of opponents at once. Now, there are probably a million other magic-users n the game setting, and if Melvin's player was right, and this was "realistic" in the emulation of genre, then either every single one of those wizards (and all others throughout past history) is a moron, or they'd all be using this same tactic and the world would be a fiery hell hole. So doing what is "realistic" in this case DIRECTLY DAMAGES Emulation of Genre (because Melvin getting what he wants means that either something no one had seen in the entire campaign is actually totally common place and all the consequences of that ought to be present everywhere, creating a paradox; or the entirety of wizards everywhere are fucking morons, which kind of ruins the whole feeling of the wizards being, you know, NOT morons). 
So the likely answers to this situation are: a) Realism sucks and b) Melvin's Player is a slimy little dipshit who's trying to argue about "realism" so that he can get away with a munchkin move that would unbalance the game and ruin everyone's fun in the long term.

"Internal consistency" does not actually have much to do with "realism". If you add something that is "realistic" but that doesn't actually match with what you see in the setting, where it doesn't make sense that it wasn't already a truth, then you fuck up Emulation for the sake of chasing the endless questing-beast of "realism".

If someone says it's "realistic" that Katanas are really superweapons compared to normal swords, and they are at all available, why isn't every single high-level fighter using one?
If someone says it's "realistic" that dragons need x amount of territory to use as hunting grounds, then why have dragons either not gone ahead and taken over the game world to satisfy their vast needs, or have become extinct by now from starvation?

Emulation and realism are not the same thing. Often, they're opposed.


(Originally posted November 6, 2010)

Monday, 2 May 2016

I Got Interviewed!

A relatively novice blogger struck up a conversation with me on Twitter, and asked me for a few tips about how to expand his audience.  I was happy to oblige, and suggested one thing that has worked for me in the past is interviews.  So I went and got myself interviewed for this political gaming blog.

Check out The Injustice Gamer to find out what I had to say now about the OSR, D&D 5e, how much input I had as a 5e consultant, and what I think about the controversial people who have been hired to make expansions for Betrayal at House on the Hill.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Volcano + H&H's Beverwyck

Sunday, 1 May 2016

DCC Campaign Update: Come at Me, Bro!

In our last adventure, the PCs had ended up going back to Highbay, with the vague plan of trying to take advantage of the tragic demise of their former dear friend Sandy the Warlord, hoping to go to her former center of power (the Dread Fort) and take everything that wasn't nailed to the floor. All except Bill, who decided to stop off to visit retired super-adventurer Anthraz first, and the Fishman Fisherman who had last been seen getting apparently wiped out of existence when the Wizard Nikos' former hovel imploded.


-The Fishman Fisherman is in an extradimensional space, of infinite emptiness.
"I don't have time for this Matrix shit."

-Fortunately, Nikos tells him to go back to the material plane, and warn his friends not to try to follow him to the Crown of Creation.  He literally drops the Fishman Fisherman down from the heavens.

-Luckily, there's something to break his fall:
"Pillows! Conveniently placed pillows for sale!"

-"What were those pillows made of?"

"Are you really 'friends' with this newb?"

-"So Sandy's really dead?!"
"Well, we didn't actually stick around to see her final death, so you know, if there's no seen body."
"So what y'all are saying is that she's Schroedinger's psychopath?"

-"We'll be going to the dread fort as soon as we're healed up."
"I don't know. I'm pretty sure that place is above my challenge rating."

-Highbay has changed somewhat since the last time the PCs were here.  The gang war they'd inadvertently started between the cyrilic/Goldhalcon mafia and the Bharata/Draconian mafia allowed the Highbay authorities to get rid of both sides, and set up the relatively harmless local dealer 'Old Crazy Jim' as the new criminal kingpin.  For Highbay, that's a total victory.

-"Goddamn kids today, going to the tatoo parlor and getting a new body."

-"I've been stabbed through the spleen more often than you've had orgasms!"

-Highbay's market is not like other town's markets. Case in point, the "Armor and Meth Emporium".

-BOLT-0 is thinking of staying behind in Highbay and resuming his former job as a Councillor.

-Suddenly, an enraged minotaur teleports in out of nowhere and charges at the party.
"Oh fuck you!!"

-"You were exercising Warrior Privilege when you slaughtered that minotaur!"
"Warriors don't have any privilege"
"In this system they do, they can attack more than once a round!"

-Meanwhile, in all this, Bill the Elf got booted by a fairly grumpy Anthraz, and ended up back in the valley at the base of Mt.Parnassus searching for his Primo Staff.  He saw that the vast numbers of refugees had all either died or fled, and there were mostly ruined tents and corpses left on the field. He finds the corpse of his former body, but his Primo Staff has been stolen; presumably by whoever it was who also wrote "bill was here" on his armor.

-Eventually, Bill did find one crazy old woman named Elsa cooking what he suspected was human flesh in a pot.
"where are you from, Elsa?"
"Old country!"
"But which old country?"
"No, that the name, Old Country!"

-Suddenly, out of nowhere, a Minotaur teleports in, swearing obscenities, and attacks Bill!  He's in a dire spot, but Elsa helps him out with a well placed strike to the minotaur's head with a frying pan. This buys Bill exactly the amount of time he needs to abandon Elsa to her minotaur-based doom by teleporting away.

-He teleports to Highbay and quickly finds the rest of the gang. "You guys, someone wrote "bill was here" on my old armor, and it wasn't even me!"

-Meanwhile, Ack'basha returns to the temple he'd made in town, only to find that it was occupied by a cult of a few dozen fanatical shaven-headed robe-wearing followers of his, chanting "Hare Ack'Basha, Hare Ack'basha!"

-"What should we do now, master Ack'basha"
"Well.. try to all the things you can to improve the city."
"We will, master! We'll fool them all!"

-Needing some weapons, Bill goes to the local "Weapon & LSD Emporium".  Noting he lacks any cash, he just charms the proprietor.  He then realizes he needs some food, so he gets the now-charmed businessman to make him dinner. Unfortunately, the roast was laced with LSD (not for any special reason, just because apparently that's what you do in Highbay when you have a guest over for supper).

-"There is a certain logic to this plan, similar to the logic I use for finding Scriptural artifacts"
"Whatever you might say about Zeke, he really believes his bullshit. Not like Ack'basha!"

-That night, staying in three separate places, Ack'Basha, Chu, and Bill are all attacked by violent Minotaurs.  Bill's attacks when he's stoned out of his mind on LSD, so Bill channels his friend Bob Shoggoth. Bill will regain consciousness next morning to find that both the Minotaur and his host and much of his host's house and roof were torn to shreds by giant tentacles.

-Meanwhile Ack'basha is inside his temple, which is under a permanent Holy Sanctuary. The Minotaur can't come in to attack.  Instead he's forced to pace furiously outside the door shouting "Come at me, bro!!"

-Chu and Zeke Bodean manage to take out their minotaur attacker, with a bit of help from the owner of the Silver Moon Inn, where they were staying.  The innkeep's weirdness factor only increases by virtue of his owning a large blaster pistol behind his bar counter.

-Chu later goes to find Ack'Basha, only to realize the Minotaur is unable to attack BELIEVERS in Ack'Basha's temple, but he could attack unbelievers.  Luckily, Ack'Basha baptizes Chu; though not to save Chu, just to avoid getting a casting penalty the next day.

-Meanwhile, the furious Minotaur has stripped off his shirt. "I'm nearly naked now, but that just makes a fight more intense! Fuck you!!"

-The Minotaur is slain, and the PCs start trying to get some clues as to why the hell minotaurs keep teleporting in to attack them.
"That last Minotaur said he was from some place... some city.. I don't remember which he mentioned. Minotauria?"
"It wasn't Minotauria, you idiot, you just made that up!"

-The PCs continue to try to investigate the next day, only to have yet another Minotaur attack. This one charges Bill and gores him with his horns!
"Bill's got the higher ground now, guys!"
"...because he's suspended by the horns that ran through him."

-"My friends, my skills as a scriptural archeologist lead me to think that these minotaur attacks are the work of powers of evil!"
"Dude, like half this party could be called 'powers of evil'."

-BOLT-O has done some research in his alchemical tower, and tells the PCs that these crazy minotaur attacks may be related to an ancient ritual called the "Sacrifice of 1000 Minotaurs".  Some wizard is teleporting the minotaurs in for the PCs to kill, and if he gets them to kill 1000 of them he'll become immortal.
"wait.. at 3xp per minotaur, that's like 3000xp!"
"So... you're saying we actually want in on this?"

-Suddenly, another minotaur attacks!
"Whoops, it's Minotaur-o'clock, you guys!"

-This time, there's a second minotaur, a she-minotaur wearing a bikini-chain-mail around her udders.
"I was going to ask if female minotaurs are hot, but that description pretty well made it obvious they're not"
"Well, unless you're a fucking furry."

-The She-Minotaur takes out Ack'basha with a vicious attack!

-"Holy shit, she dropped Ack'basha! Bill, you got to spellburn!"
"I have nothing left to spellburn, dude! Look at my stats, I'm a fucking amoeba!"

-Even so, Bill tries to do his Sequester spell, but the end result is just an enraged minotaur that crosses the fire trap and keeps attacking.
"Great, now the minotaur is on fire! You only made it worse!"

-Finally, an incredibly fortunate roll on a Choking Cloud spell drops the minotaur attack. Ack'basha makes his luck roll and turns out to be still alive.

-The party carries on with its investigations, but wants to restock on equipment, so they go back to the house of the merchant that Bill had charmed and accidentally got killed in an LSD-and-Lovecraftian-Monstrosity-fueled craze the previous night.  Bodean bets that Ack'basha, who isn't present, would never approve of robbing the possessions of a dead man.
"You really don't know Ack'basha, do you?"

-When they get around to telling Ack'basha:
Bill: "yeah, its not like we killed him or something"
Bodean: "You LITERALLY DID!"
"Sure, but that doesn't count"

-"So Sezrekhan won't help us figure out which wizard is sending the minotaur against us?"
"He's not interested."
"Does he no longer care whether you live or die?"
"I'm pretty sure he never did!"

-"Well, my friend, you could still renounce your daemonic master and come back to the Lord. G.O.D. forgives all things!"

-"So we're just going to rest up a few days and then go to the Dread Fort like before? And totally ignore the problem with the minotaurs? That's a horrible plan!"
"Yeah, well, I'm a horrible person."

That was all for this session. Having resolved nothing, and with much of the party having almost died, the PCs just decided the mystery of who was sending the minotaurs after them was just too damn hard to solve, so they're just going to keep killing minotaurs as they go along, and carry on with the plan of milking the Dread Fort for all they can steal, before Sandy's warrior legions figure out she's dead.


Currently Smoking: Mastro de Paja Bent Billiard + Rattray's Old Gowrie

Saturday, 30 April 2016

More Fun at the Gaming Club, Where I'm a Dinosaur

Well, It's 7:25am and I'm just coming home, exhausted.

But man was it fun.  Every time I've been to the fortnightly 'gaming club' event called the "Tavernorca" here, it's been enormous fun.  Last week there was a room full of gamers playing Lords of Olympus, and my appearance there provoked a cheer and a debate about whether Lords of Olympus in actual play is more similar to a Venezuelan or an Argentinian Soap Opera.

This time, several players abandoned their previous game to join Dark Albion, which I've had to put on a strict first-come first-serve policy in terms of players.  Last session had been too hard to handle with 8 players, this time went way more smoothly when I capped it at 6.

The players love my game, and I'm loving these players.  The best part is how young they all are.  Two of my players are 16.  None is over 25.  Of the 30-70 people who show up in any given event, all of them are at those ages, with the average being maybe around 22-24. As a middle-aged guy, I'm a freaking dinosaur there.  I'm by several years the oldest guy there.  And while that does make me feel old in a way I rarely experience in a gaming context, it's super promising for the gaming scene here in South America.
Particularly compared to the stories I've heard of the state of things in the U.S. or Canada.

That's it. I'm going to bed.  I have to game again in less than 12 hours.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Rhodesian + Image Latakia

Friday, 29 April 2016

RPGPundit Reviews: Hardnova

This is a review of the RPG "Hardnova: Space Action Roleplaying", an RPG written by Brett Bernstein, published by Precis Intermedia.  This is a review of "revised and expanded" 10th Anniversary edition. It comes in a softcover book, about 140 pages long. The cover features a full-color drawing of a space battle (between two fighter vessels).  The interior art is black and white, and is semi-sparse, in a kind of 80s gritty SF-comic style, as well as a starmap.

I should note that I have a professional relationship of sorts with Precis Intermedia, as they are the publishers of my Lords of Olympus RPG, as well as Gnomemurdered.  I don't think this will affect the grade I give this game, but for transparency's sake I'm mentioning it here.

Many years ago, I reviewed Hardnova previously, in an earlier edition.  You can find this review here.

The system for Hardnova is the 2d6-based Genre Diversion I system, which is Precis' house system, and I won't go into more detail about it here since it's well covered in that previous review (you can read more about it there). Instead I would like to focus on the differences between that edition and this one.

This edition of Hardnova has considerably more material, obviously, than the much smaller edition I had previously reviewed. It's also structurally different, as that one was in a kind of box-set format, while this one is a standard RPG book.  The rule system is the same, but there is a considerable amount of elaboration.

You have the same races as the previous edition (human, digronian, kt'sorii, migado, x-ans, and tarkosians) but then several other races are added to the mix.  You have "kinosians", which are of the same race type as tarkosians but had been the serf-caste to them, and thus do not have their genetic engineering (or genetic flaws).  There's also the Sligg, which are a kind of blob-people; lil-marians which are slothlike humanoids; and the sikatai which are humanoids but made of a kind of gelatinous structure.

The section on "the cosmos" is well-detailed, with starmaps of the 'sovereign space', and with mechanics for creating your own worlds. These are similar in some ways to Traveller's (and other sci-fi worlds these days), though much less technical or detailed. You also get a variety of new gimmicks for creating alien life forms. There's detailed information on a number of additional alien species that are not PC species, although some of them include options for creating as player characters. Like the PC races, the races in this section are both orthodox to the sci-fi style Hardnova manages (which could be called 'soft' hard sci-fi, if that's not an oxymoron), while simultaneously being fairly creative. So you get some wormlike aliens, short furry telepathic aliens, cold-weather humanoid aliens with shells, and others.
Certain alien races can also inter-breed, and guidelines are written up for what the various viable mixes would be like.

You also get ten pages of short stat-blocs and descriptions of non-intelligent alien creatures.  These are organized by terrain type (desert, forest, frostland, etc.), and there's about 9 creatures per page. So brief descriptions indeed, but plentiful. At the end of this section, you get some more tables for generating other alien creatures.

After this, there's a couple of pages of stat-blocs for robots, along similar lines. After this there's several pages of equipment, regular and special, including drugs (of the pharmaceutical and street-drug variety, plus illegal psychic drugs).  This chapter ends with some quick random encounter tables, set up by terrain type (each terrain gets two tables: "beast" and "other" encounters; the 'other' being things like NPCs or natural occurrences along the lines of sandstorms or rockslides).

The next chapter contains various things for the ongoing game; so there's experience rules for improving characters, stuff for improving robots, and stuff for improving starships.  There's also optional rules for mooks (here called 'extras'), rules for making the gameplay more dramatic or more heroic, alternate ways to use skills, and rules on long-term injuries.  There's also ways to incorporate materials from other Precis games into Hardnova, or to convert Hardnova to run on the Masterbook system (making it compatible with Precis' Shatterzone game).

All of this gets us to about page 80 of the book. The remaining less-than-half of the book is taken up mainly by a set of sixteen different scenarios, grouped into three different sets of 'stories': the 'original stories', 'vanguard stories', and 'beta stories'.
The original stories are not actually some kind of overlapping mega-plot, just a varied set of adventures. There's searching an uncharted area of space, finding out what happened with a colony that lost contact, a conspiracy around a potential space war, a high tech murder mystery, and hunting down drug smugglers.
The 'vanguard stories' scenarios are meant to be played together, in order. All the scenarios assume the PCs are involved with the United Sovereign Navy. The PCs are assigned to a small scout vessel. This series is filled with military-type scenarios, warfare, ship-to-ship combat, diplomacy, etc.
The 'beta stories' are varied again and not obligatorily run as a linear campaign, but they are set in a later period than the earlier stories, building on events in the setting.

The back contains a set of reference tables, character sheets, and a grouping of 27 'templates' of pre-made characters that one could pick for immediate play.

So on the whole, what to say about Hardnova?

Obviously any game that has been through multiple editions and is now celebrating its 10th anniversary edition is a game that has had some appeal to a certain audience.  Within the realm of that kind of softer hard sci-fi (that is to say, not science-fantasy, but also not the uber-hardcore strictly 'hard' definition of Sci-fi that some traditionalists prefer), Hardnova is well built and has creative elements.  It doesn't do anything radically innovative, though, either in setting or system.  The setting is readable and easy to use, the scenarios provided give you ample material to run (just about) right out of the book without having to work very hard, and the system is quite easy to understand and will feel comfortable to people used to games like Traveller.  The production value is good.

If you want something radical and really daring in terms of content or system, you likely wouldn't feel like you've found it in Hardnova.  If you want a decent sci-fi game that's easy to play and has a well-written setting, on the other hand, you will want to check Hardnova out.


Currently Smoking:  Lorenzetti Poker + Rattray's Old Gowrie

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Classic Rant: How to Get (or Not To Get) Girls Into the Hobby

People keep fucking this up. And again, the reason is simple: you can't CHANGE THE HOBBY to get more women, or Asians, or blacks, or senior citizens, or left-handed redheads, or any other particular group into RPGs. This is a backward and pointless way to do something; if a person from a certain group would not be inclined to your hobby in the first place, no effort is going to lead to that, all you're going to end up doing is fucking up your own hobby.

On the other hand, if there are people, regardless of what identity-descriptors you can put on them, who might be interested in RPGs, getting them into the hobby is as easy as them finding out it exists. That's it.

So something like the recent Forge Swine game "Awesome Women Kicking Ass" (ironically, bound to be played mostly by self-described "male feminists", no doubt, if it ends up being played at all) is a perfect example of how NOT to do things. No, women will NOT be more interested in RPGs just because you make a game about "awesome women kicking ass", or because you make everyone play a girl in the game, or because the theme is (and I quote) "defending the land of Herstoria against an attack by the pernicious forces of the Patriarchy" (I swear to fucking god, that's their actual description, in their words). I have to think, to pray at least, that there's at least some minor element of tongue-in-cheek there, even for them this is just too far over the top not to be. Isn't it?

I mean shit, I don't even know anymore, these motherfuckers are so deranged that they think gaming about throat-raping a dead cabin-boy is good wholesome fun which they take in all seriousness, so in comparison actually believing this to be an entirely straight and serious game about defending the land of Herstoria from the Patriarchy is not a big stretch. Maybe they really do think this is fucking genius or something; but even if they are being slightly facetious, the real mentality that underlies this game is "if we bend over backward to show how "sensitive" we are, and make games where women get to put a big emphasis on the fact that they're women, then we'll get more women gamers".

And that's absolutely wrong. Women don't want to play feminist heroines fighting the patriarchy. They either don't want to play at all, or they want to play exactly what everyone else wants to play: dwarves, elves, rangers, space cops, superheroes, occult investigators, etc etc. and making a big show of pseudo-feminist sensitivity is going to get you fucking nowhere.

So let's look, on the other hand, at an example of how to do things right. That would be this video right here. WoTC could post this video as-is and it would be the best advertising for the female market you could imagine: its a group of teenage girls who all play D&D, and make no big deal about being girls, or play differently. In other words, they're just gamers.


(Originally posted October 7, 2010)

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

theRPGsite Still Down

So we were up briefly yesterday, and those of you who checked in might have gotten a glimpse of it, but a variety of little bugs got in the way, and we're back down again to try to fix things up.

We should hopefully be back up within the next 24 hours.


Currently Smoking:  Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia

UPDATE: theRPGsite is back up again, but it may still have some bugs.